Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Happiness: An Essay

Happiness: An Essay

Patricia L. Cummings

Quilters are a happy bunch of people. They have discovered that work is fun! As an active quilter, I have found personal satisfaction while in the midst of the project. Yes, it is work, and on certain days I take out more stitches than I put in.

When the quilt is done, I look at it with a critical eye. Sometimes, in retrospect, I second guess my choices of pattern, colors, designs, or finishing techniques. The best part is that there is always the next time, the next chance to make that elusive "perfect quilt." Strangely, I do not care as much about the finished project as I do about the process.

The life of the quilt for me is when it is a newly-formed image in my brain. The anticipation of a new project is exhilarating and exciting. Oh, the expectations that come into play at that time! Then, as work progresses, the colors and design start to take on a life of their own. Lovingly crafted, stitches are placed to keep the layers of the quilt together for many years to come.

Being a quilter brings me much satisfaction. The attainment of happiness is a natural outcome of creativity. Happiness is not as elusive as most folks would have you believe. The most important key to having a happy life is deciding to be a happy person. Yes, this is a conscious choice and is something that each of us can choose daily when we realize that happiness is a matter of having a good attitude.

Part of that is to develop a habit of gratitude for the people in our lives. Make it a practice to thank others for the work they have done that has improved your own quality of life. This will help to improve not only their dispositions, but yours, as well. When you consider doing this you will find a large number of people who are helpful to you and who would appreciate a smile or a word of kindness. Only a minute is needed but your goodwill could help someone to feel happy and appreciated.

We get tossed about by the winds of chance, like quilts blowing in the breeze and as composites of biological parts, we are sometimes patched back together, just like an old quilt. The sun burns our bodies, even as the sun fades the cloth of our quilts. Time has a way of changing us permanently and forever. In the greater scheme of the universe, we and quilts are but a blip on the radar. At age 50, we begin to have a strong sense of our own mortality.

An "antique quilt" is one that usually 100 years old or at least more than 50 years old. At 50, are we antiques also?  That magical year is a turning point for most people. Youth is behind but we are not quite ready for the rocking chair. A Mary Chapin Carpenter song says, "Come grow old with me /... the best is yet to be." Aging gracefully and happily is a matter of choice.

I never cease to be impressed by my associations with friends in their 80s and 90s. From my personal observations, aging adults who are the most active are the happiest. Actively engaging the mind or the needle seems to go a long way toward continued personal happiness and fulfillment and sometimes even helps to maintain physical health. Meaningful tasks help to create an atmosphere where one can learn and grow at any age. As for me, I plan to die with a needle in my hand, or my nose in a book!

The main thing to keep in mind as one goes through life is to "Get the big picture," just as they instructed in Driver Training School. Look to what is ahead of you, but do not forget what is on the sidelines or what is coming from behind.

The past is in the past and we cannot change it. No matter how long it gets beaten, the dead dog will not walk again. As much as we think about or agonize over the past, we do not get a second chance at re-taping it. 

There is a refrain that says, "There is sufficient trouble unto the day." We may strive to change our present circumstances such as where we live, how much income we have, and what long terms changes we can achieve for our health. The most important thing to remember is that we can live more happily every day just by being more pleasant and by having as positive an attitude as we can muster.

Everything good in our lives starts with a "can do" attitude. Instead of saying we can't swim, perhaps it is time to jump into the water straight-away.  "Can't" is one of my least favorite four letter words. It speaks of defeatism. It makes one seem to be at the mercy of circumstance. Taking charge of our lives, on the other hand, makes us stronger as we go.

If you refuse to try, then you are defeated before you start. The more we do, the more we can do. The more capable we are at doing something, the more recognition we will get from others. The more recognition we get, the more positive we will feel about our work and ourselves.

The more positive we feel, the more self esteem we will have, and the more we will be able to reach out to others. The more we reach out, the more friends we will make. The more friends we have, the more connected we will feel and the more we will accomplish. This is the stuff that makes for happiness. The more you give, the more you will get in return, in tangible and non-tangible ways.
We are called to an abundant life and attitude is the key to its access. True happiness is home grown. It has nothing to do with how big a car one drives, whether one has maid service, a Cuisinart, or scrimshaw. It has to do with attitude. Part of the attitude should be a sense of thankfulness for everything and everyone good in our lives.

The flowers that bloom in your neighbor's yard, a friendly person at the Post Office, a call from a friend, all of these are things for which to be thankful and to treasure. In valuing and noticing the little things of everyday life, and being grateful for them - therein lies a measure of true happiness. Live in the moment and do not let preoccupation with yesterday's woes, or worry about tomorrow's potential problems, distract you from appreciating what is good about today.

Personally, I love the details of life. I like making quilts that take a lot of time and care. I enjoy paperwork. I like observing insects. They are the most fascinating little creatures. I love to watch birds and observe their behaviors. The change of seasons in New England is also a constant marvel, especially when God's paintbrush changes the many shades of green to rust, orange, yellow, red, and brown. With so much to see and so many wondrous things to get involved in, it seems tragic that so many people seem to go through life oblivious to the magic of it all.

Most "good" things in life are a result of concentrated effort on someone's part.  When my husband bakes bread, I appreciate it. I know how to bake bread, and do not do so as often as I would like. But when he takes the time to do that, I know from experience what an investment of time it is, and I value his efforts all the more.

He is an excellent cook who does the grocery shopping on his own some of the time, and who plans and prepares nutritious, wholesome, and economical meals. When I cook and bake, he is sure to tell me how much he appreciates that. In fact, when people ask why my husband and I are so happy, it is hard for us to figure out such a question. Our lifestyle works because of our dedication to do whatever is necessary to achieve shared goals.

We can all celebrate life on a daily basis by the things we choose to do.  For us, our hobbies of quilting and needlework, writing, reading, gardening, cooking, woodworking, and the study of art are our main interests. Surprisingly, I even enjoy housework, mainly because I like to have a clean house. I am just thankful to have a house. Maintaining a cheerful attitude toward work is why we are happy. When done prayerfully, it can assume a spiritual quality.

After the chores are finished,  then we feel that we have earned the right to relax and engage in more favored activities. Listening to music while cleaning passes the time more quickly and can be enervating. Watching the birds while doing the dishes by hand (we do not want an electric dishwasher), makes that task a pleasure. We are also not locked into stereotypical role models of men's work v. women's work. We are a team. Customarily, I go out to the flower garden to pull weeds, and Jim is as likely as not to grab a dish towel to help dry dishes.

A life lived in service to others can go a long way toward developing happiness. To feel useful is important to our mental health. Life is good!  There is always something new and wonderful waiting to be discovered.

As a quilter, it is comforting to know that it will not be possible to make every quilt pattern ever created, in my lifetime. I am absolved from even having to try to do that. However, it is wonderful to realize that there are limitless opportunities for re-creating old designs, as well as creating our own. We make our own blessings, minute by minute, and stitch by stitch.  Savor those minutes and those stitches.

Choose happiness. Engage yourself in creating an heirloom, whether it be a line drawing, a piece of poetry, or a handmade quilt. Doing so will give you a sense of well-being. You will experience the joy of being creative and your efforts are destined to make you or someone else smile in the future. We are called to be nothing less than happy people.

Happiness is when:

1)  you realize that you have enough love, enough talent, and
     enough money
2)  you are able to share your love with others by giving your
      time, your talents, and material goods
3)  you realize that your time here is limited and as a result
     of that, you live each day fully, gratefully, and joyfully
4)  you follow your dreams, even if it means casting off the
      nay-sayers and negative thinkers in your life
 5)  you make time for you:  to play, to think, to pray,
      and to create.
 6)  and finally, happiness is passing it on.

©Copyright 2002. Patricia Cummings, Quilter's Muse Publications, Concord, New Hampshire